Tom Robbins wrote about the happenstance of being alone in Roadside Attraction, as in life and travel,” ..the world offers itself freely to us when we are alone” and this concept is how I’ve comforted myself and embraced my oneness throughout the years since I read that eye opening book. The fact Robbins also references Twinkie’s and red wine as a complete meal and dreams of having his own vineyard and Twinkie patch with his true love, one day, tempers that comfort.
I’ve come to believe that the concept of being alone and being lonely are two very different things indeed.
I have a friend that upon meeting me last year told me I am like the human equivalent of a feral cat, because I am alone, accept for my pets, almost all the time and enjoy it. So much so, I have to adjust when I go out in public, lack of social interaction being a disadvantage that I have to overcome. Alone is my thing I guess, but it took years of loneliness to realize that I would rather be. For example, have you ever experienced the joy of having woke in the bed of your truck at sunrise at the rim of the Grand Canyon, just you and your dog, after a rare and blanketing snow? That state of being is alone, at its finest.
As a child, my brothers were 8 and 10 years older than I, and as I assume happens in dysfunctional homes, they were fierce advocates for each other, and close enough in age, that they experienced and suffered the world together. I was much younger and I felt so left out of everything, my brothers had each other, my father had his ego, and my mother had her anger. So when my fathers ego was being stroked, and my brothers smartly left for college, I was left alone with my mother’s angst.
I felt my brothers’ absence the most the year I was in 4th grade, during Mrs. Bundy’s class. I was teased relentlessly in grade school and it was at its worse during this school year. Mrs. Bundy did not care for me nor defend against the bullies. I acted out and gave her reason, but her response was always too harsh for my misbehavior. She did not appreciate my earnest attempts to self deprecate, if that’s what it took, to lessen the load I carried.
Mornings with my mother were the worst. I dreaded getting up because I was exhausted all the time. Cursed with insomnia since forever, I lied awake for hours, only to fall asleep to night terrors still so vivid in recollection it gives me chills. Have you ever felt the extreme oneness of insomnia? It’s like being lost in space or alone on an island, empty and hopeless, with only your own thoughts for company.
I felt completely alone during these long sleepless nights, and I would drudge through my morning routine, greeted by soggy cereal and a sociopathic monster who would poke and prod at my sensibilities until I couldn’t focus through my own tears and rage. I would then run late to the bus just to be greeted by entitled boys calling me a joke as I hid under my jacket and cried. When I got to school, I did not make friends and was teased by almost everyone, except the other outsiders, the misfits, whom were cowering as well. Yet more than once, I was crossed by another outsider joining a tease against me, to be part of the popular group, if possible, for a moment…
During this year, whenever I opened my mouth to defend myself, I only gave more fodder to the abuse, and I remember willfully not talking for days. The first day I did this I was amazed to find that by lunch time, no one at school even noticed, and the same for the rest of the day. When I got home, mom didn’t notice when I did not answer her apparently robotic stock questions- I guess she knew the answers but didn’t notice whether I confirmed them? I remember it as being days before anyone noticed, but one day was enough to terrify. It was an exercise in some type of control over my life, and besides, I was teased less if I didn’t respond. I would creep through the cafeteria with blinders on, not looking to either side, to find my solitary spot near the stage.
(The cafeteria was also the auditorium in which I played the cowardly lion in a Wizard of Oz production at my school a few years later. The class voted for me to play that part and that was the first time I felt accepted and liked! 6th grade- Mr. Stevens class)
At home it was just my mom and I. At school it was myself, and everyone else, that is what loneliness is. Being in a large cafeteria with countless children and nowhere to sit. That is what lonely feels like.
Alas, there are certain joys in life no one could take away and one of those joys for me is Peanut Butter. I write often about dark times in my life, but I always found and find joy in the small things, like a well made sandwich and the importance of buttering both pieces of bread, then jelly or fluff generously laid between. Solace comes in many shapes, sizes and objects when you are lonely, and what better friend, my peanut butter, my favorite and my only true food-love.
Made worth the slow cafeteria creep, that brown paper bag held close to my heart, past all present and future torment, thrilled to be left alone, rewarded with the culinary masterpiece that was: my sandwich.
But when my mother took her turns at various diet fads, she took it upon herself to make me skinny. Now ‘fat’ back then was just chubby by today’s standards, but I was, and most of my school mates’ teasing fodder came from that sad truth. My mother’s concern, a double edged sword, would help me overcome this excess weight I carried, albeit the loss of solace that food granted. My brown paper bag, once cherished, had not my peanut butter sandwich, replaced with hard boiled eggs ( with little salt packets), saltines, pickles, and the occasional warm fruit.
Now, I was alone and had a paper bag full of humiliation with no reward for the hunger and the other kids took notice.
I remember being delighted once that one of my eggs had two yokes and I was dumb enough to share the fact of ‘twin dead chicks’ because I thought that was a funny thing to say and I was rewarded with that momentary belonging that laughter creates. Then the student of my darkest nights, Patrice D’Stephano (if your out there Patrice, I hope you have a really fat butt) pounced stating that double yokes are well suited to a hungry fat girl… which doesn’t even make sense! When the renewed laughter quieted, I said something stupid like ‘eggs aren’t fattening, that’s why they are in my bag’.. she just shrugged and smiled her evil grin.
Did my mother know she was ruining my life and taking my only solace at lunch? Probably not, because not having a fat daughter was very important.
So muted was my tactic, my lesson in the illusion of control, and the realization that no one really cared whether I spoke or not, was fat or hungry, and that none of that mattered. I then tried to focus on the bigger picture of surviving the trials of elementary school and how I was going to turn this crap show around and enjoy myself. I spent a lot of time in the art rooms soon after, and made my own lunches.
So in comparison, let me share an experience I had when I was about 27. I was participating in the Arizona Renaissance Festival for my second year and lived for 8 weeks in Apache Junction, Arizona. I hardly made any money, and simply enjoyed the weather, the desert, and the long hikes through the desert and the nearby mountains. I enjoyed hot springs and waterfalls way off the grid while out west, amazed that there still was untouched, or at least not yet destroyed, places so beautiful and remote that I made conscious the goal of being in that present, so as not to take it for granted. I had visited the Grand Canyon a few years earlier with a couple of friends, and felt I had not experienced it properly, and at the end of the festival that year I decided to drive north to the Canyon before heading back to Connecticut. It was hundreds of miles out of my way and I could not afford it, but I didn’t care, and the entire half of the country was on a rare winter advisory, impending inches just starting to fall, and the perfect triage of reasons not to, became the reason to.
Brandy, my Shepard, and I drove through the night, and upon arrival, the snow was coming down so heavy and visibility was so bad that the gate master at the North face greeted and told me to park until daylight, because of the conditions. I remember him giving direction, and it wasn’t long before I creeped slowly to a pull off marked north. Not sure if I was in a parking space, I came to a rail and stopped for the night. My dog and I had to go around to the bed of my truck to sleep and the combination of blinding moon, white snow, and dark night- was absolutely surreal in its opaqueness. We climbed in and rested till dawn.
Have you ever heard coyotes wail in the night? Their haunting howls sound like multitudes of crying babies all screaming at once. It does not sound like a howl. It is a truly terrifying sound until you come to terms with the source. While listening I probably nodded off for an hour or two but mostly just cuddled my wet dog and waited…
…shortly before dawn I left her in the truck and approached the rail. It was still flurrying and very foggy, but the sky was turning pink at the edge of dawn, so I waited…
The fog lift was audible in the still morning air, a crackling akin to Rice Krispies, once the milk soaked it soft, if you put your ear close. The crackling snapped louder and clearer in the next few minutes, slowly building to crescendo when the sun popped over the rim of this impossible and prehistoric rip in the earth. At that very moment, the remaining fog, cloud and mist just shot into the sky, with the heat of that rising planet. Then behold the glory of this beautiful monument to our earth’s wonders, blanketed in fresh and untouched snow glistening in all its striations and crevices. As I trotted a bit closer to that edge, I imagined myself asleep and dreaming, astonished at the majesty before me. The canyon ran remarkably with no end in sight, the bottom of which was lost in a shadow yet to form. As the sun came into full bloom, the heat melted the edges of the upper rim, the sound of melting snow like a slow waterfall, revealing freshly watered foliage glistening in the morning sun.
But as the rim revealed, the lower valley became obscured by steamy fog and was blinding in it’s glare making me squint and strain to see the monument in its totality and the measuring fogs demise.
Just then Brandy stretched by our truck, and as she padded up to greet me, I petted and looked in her beautiful brown eyes, then turned to find the entire canyon suddenly clear in the bright sun and so big that it almost knocked me off that cliff with surprise. The Earth is an amazing paradise…full of restoring wonder and beauty unmet. And if that wasn’t perfect enough, we shared a fluffernutter in it’s rays.
I sometimes wonder, if everyone on the planet experienced this morning as I had, solo, perhaps then, more people would care for her properly and share her with the coming generations, the coyotes and all living things.